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Jaundice in Babies

Jaundice is often used to describe the yellow color of the skin or the whites of eyes. It is a common condition seen in newborn babies. So, what truly going on in the body to cause this? Well, it indicates that there is excess bilirubin in the bloodstream. Bilirubin is a yellow material created in the body as it replaces old red blood cells. The liver’s role is to break down the bilirubin which will eventually be removed via stool. But the liver may be still developing in babies, therefore the liver may not be able to keep up with the production of bilirubin in the body.

 

While it may seem alarming for your baby to have a condition so early on in life, it is very common and often not worrisome!

 

What are the common causes of Jaundice?

  • Bilirubin is produced faster than the liver can break it down.
  • The liver is still developing in babies, meaning it might need some time in order to effectively break down the bilirubin.
  • The intestines may be absorbing the bilirubin which would normally be removed via stool.
  • Breastfeeding jaundice can occur within the first week of the baby’s life. This is due to babies who are not nursing well or the mother’s milk supply is low.

 

What are the common symptoms associated with jaundice?

  • Yellowing of skin and whites of eyes
  • Babies with severe jaundice may be very tired and feed poorly

 

What should you do if you notice jaundice in your baby?

Health care providers will check for jaundice once the baby is born. Hospitals will generally check for jaundice after 24 hours have passed. However, jaundice can be seen in babies after 2-4 days of being born. If you notice any signs of jaundice you should get your baby tested. This is done with a blood test to measure levels of bilirubin. Most of the time it is not a problem and goes away within 2 weeks.

 

What is the common treatment for jaundice?

Treatment is generally not required. Initiating treatment for jaundice will depend on the level of bilirubin, how fast the levels are rising, the baby’s age, and how early the baby was born.

 

The best treatment is to ensure the baby is getting enough fluids via breastmilk or formula. Feed the baby often is recommended in order to encourage regular bowel movements.

 

Phototherapy may be used if the baby’s bilirubin levels are really high – this is the common blue light used in hospital settings. The light helps to encourage the breakdown of bilirubin in the skin.

 

When should you be concerned?

You should be concerned if your baby has a fever, seems to be listless or is not feeding well. If in any case, you have a suspicion that your baby has jaundice talk to your medical provider.


Jaundice, Newborn. "Newborn Jaundice: Medlineplus Medical Encyclopedia". Medlineplus.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.


About the author:

Dr. Samina Mitha, ND
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